The perfect summer’s day: Tomato jam, Indiana succotash

The sun sparkled on the waters of Eld Inlet, a soft tropical breeze ruffled through the mimosa tree, hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower, and six old friends gathered in anticipation of good food and long conversations—a Sunset Magazine editor could not have staged a more beautiful day.

We loaded our plates from the snack table with crackers, good cheese, olives, and Nancy’s tomato jam, and convened on the beach, ready to catch up.

The scene was set on the kitchen counter for everyone’s favorite—Succotash. I asked to be the chopper and dicer and, with the aid of Nancy’s beautifully sharp knife, I filled bowls with summer-sweet tomatoes and Walla Walla onions. After the traditional “Succotash” reading, we first ladled savory beans with chunks of smoked ham hock into our bowls, added diced tomatoes and chopped onions, cut corn off the cob onto the vegetables, smothered the lot with butter, seasoned amply with coarse salt, and celebrated Nancy and Tom’s prowess in the kitchen and the garden.

After we walked around the garden to settle the succotash, Nancy brought out a platter of sautéed chicken thighs with balsamic glaze and roasted potato salad—the lily was gilded! Beth made the ultimate finish to a summer feast—a peach tart tatin with a snuggle of whipped cream. We talked about Covid, the adventures of grown children, dashed and future travel plans, the trials of being a home owner, foundations, inspections, wet basements, the joys of retirement, Thai food, mystery writers, noisy boats, quiet woods, and the benefits of hiking.

The Sweetie and I continue to savor the benefits of our connection with these good friends—they know our secrets, they knew our parents, they have seen our kids grow, and they have been there through the thick and the thin. Thanks to every one of them and see you soon!

Tomato Jam

  • 1 ½ pounds Roma tomatoes peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup fine diced sweet onions
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  •  ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •  ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use. This will keep at least a week.

Indiana Succotash—serves 6-8

  • 

2# dried cranberry or horticulture beans
  • 
6 large tomatoes–worthy of being called “summer’s finest hour”
  • 
1 sweet onion (Walla Walla, Vidalia)
  • 4 ears sweet corn–the freshest possible
  • 
Real butter, brought to room temperature
  • Coarse salt

Soak dried beans overnight, drain, then cover the beans with 1” water, add bay leaf and smoked ham hocks and simmer until beans are soft. Use plenty of water so you’ll have lots of juice.

Dice fresh ripe tomatoes, place in a serving bowl. 

Fine dice sweet onions, place in a serving bowl. 

Boil whole ears of corn, have corn and butter available. 

Each eater spoons an ample amount of beans with liquid in the bottom of their bowl, adds tomatoes, onions, cuts the corn off the cob into their bowl, adds the desired amount of softened butter and adjusts to suit their taste.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 1 Comment

Soak up the sun: Pot roast

Sheryl Crow, Soak up the Sun

Like any local living in a travelers’ destination, when San Diego was our home we generally avoided the usual things tourists do. Sea World, the zoo, side trips to Tijuana, and shopping in Old Town were saved for friends and family. This time around, we decided to see those places with out-of-town eyes.

The San Diego Padres are knocking it out of Petco Park this year. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado are must-see athletes attracting fans to a new way of playing baseball. Unfortunately, this time their bats were silent, the defense limp, and the Padres lost 7-1. Oh well, in baseball, as in life, there’s always tomorrow.

For us, tomorrow meant a San Diego Bay harbor cruise. Although we could see the harbor from our house when we lived in Mission Hills, we seldom cruised the bay. The details of life—working, cooking, gardening—got in the way of exploring. Taking a harbor tour along the North and South Bay opened up a San Diego we hadn’t experienced. We passed barking sea lions, Shelter Island, the Star of India, the nuclear submarine base, and an incredible number of huge naval destroyers, before we glided back into port.

We also squeezed in a day at the races, “where the surf meets the turf at Del Mar,” walked along Pacific Beach every morning, spent quality time with our friend Bob, cooked a little, picked up tacos at Rubios, sat outside beneath the glorious San Diego sunsets, met some boyfriends, listened to beautiful young women plan their future, danced in the kitchen with Rusty the dog, and ate a glorious pot roast that Karen made. We have loved being a part of this family for years.

Our kind neighbors kept an eye on things while we were gone and watered the pots and wildflowers, so when we returned, we were able to jump right back in. So it’s our world and we love it, a bit of baseball, phone visits with dear ones, and frequent new baby updates—isn’t life grand!

Karen’s pot roast (source Instagram: FoodsofNYC) 

Ingredients: 

4 lb Chuck roast 

Sauce: 

  • 3/4 c soy sauce 
  • 2/3 c brown sugar 
  • 1/4 c ketchup 
  • 2 tsp mustard 
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped 
  • Spices (garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, paprika, pepper) 
  • 2/3-1 c water or stock 
  • Vegetables of your choice 

Mix together sauce ingredients

Place veggies of choice to cover bottom of roast or Pyrex pan. Sear both sides of roast (optional) and then place on top vegetables 

Pour sauce all over roast and vegetables. Cover well and cook in oven for 3-3.5 hours at 350°. You’ll know it’s ready when it pulls apart easily.

When done take it out of the oven and flip roast so that the other side has a chance to absorb the juices while it cools. Let rest 15-20 minutes. Slice against the grain.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Travel | 3 Comments

Over the sea to Skye: Bike adventure to Port Costa

This week’s post was written by Ginny and illustrated using the beautiful photos she took during her recent visit to California. One day she set off on a bike ride, turned down a road marked “No exit,” and stepped back in time.

The Skye Boat Song, theme from The Outlander

“Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say could that lass be I
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye”

The promise of adventure beckoned from the hills above Martinez, CA like the siren song, or like the Skye Boat Song. The day was lively and bright—the destination, unknown.

The parade of oddities began with a rock labyrinth alongside the bike trail. Always willing to go into the mystic, I pushed my bike ahead into the maze. It felt like a tilt-a-whirl, sounded like a car crash, and smelled of lavender.

Professor Salts Coffee? Yes, indeedy. Alas, no chatty barista, that’s odd—no anybody. The date on the Wheat Warehouse was 1887. Perhaps the Theater of Dreams held a clue. It did feel dreamlike. No provisions at the mercantile, only a clump of forget-me-nots growing in a crack on the sidewalk. A hat shop? Curiouser and curiouser. Have I gone mad? Perhaps, but all the best people are.

Proceeding to the trailer park, three young lads, 10 or 12, skipped into town kicking a can. They’d come to get the mail, walked from Crockett—next town over—a distance of three miles. Engaged in conversation, they informed me of the mayoral race taking place on the Fourth of July. (Coinciding with The Canned Ham Festival). They were voting for Chubb, the lab-retriever mix.

All the buildings seemed fairly run down—they were built in the late 1800’s, except the Catholic Church. She sported a new paint job and a totally empty parking lot (but then everything was empty).

A lovely, yet forlorn Mary supervised the church cemetery—mostly Italian immigrants. Joltin’ Joe’s grandparents were there, but no Joe. He is off with Marilyn somewheres, Hollywood perhaps.

As the town clock tolled, radishes began to sprout on my arm. I felt it best to return to 2021. I did check Redfin on my way out—not a thing. Darn.


Thanks and a tip of the hat to Ginny, Lewis Carroll, and Diana Gabaldon. 

 

Posted in Family and friends, Travel | 1 Comment

If you can’t stand the heat…Cold Tomato Noodles

Ella Fitzgerald, It’s Too Darn Hot


I once read or heard that people who can’t cope when the thermometer reads over 80° suffer more than others because their capillaries are closer to the surface of their skin. I asked Dr. Google to corroborate my claim—but nothing. There was something vague about endothermic reactions and vasodilation, but nothing that would encourage the coddling of those of us who moan quietly but consistently when it’s hot.


I may start a support group. We would meet in those inexplicable places—hospital rooms, movie
theaters, airplanes, Costco’s vegetable room—that are always frosty. Shawls and warm socks would be provided because we also don’t like it too cold.


Fox News seems to gloat about the current weather pattern that is trapping the subversive upper left coast under a suffocating “heat  dome”—NORTHWEST TO HAVE HOTTEST DAYS EVER!!! PORTLAND SWELTERS AT 115!!; SEATTLE STEAMS AT 110°!!; LACEY SUFFERS THE MOST AT 108°!! Well, not maybe the last one.

 

As long as we protect the flowers from the hottest sun and water them constantly, they don’t see to mind the heat. Bob’s wildflowers are glorious—red and pink poppies, blue batchelor buttons, pink, red, and white cosmos, fluffy lavender things, tall white daisyish ones, purple cup-like flowers, blue lupine, and golden California poppies in full bloom, with the promise of more to come. The azaleas have outdone themselves, the snapdragons are short but mighty, and the Swiss chard roars along. 

 

 

The birds wake us up in the morning cheeping and twittering but fall silent round 11:00—either overcome with the heat or cooling off in the woods. They come around for a morning bath and line up on the retaining wall for their turn. Big fat robin goes first, leaving just enough water for the chickadees and juncoes. It is absolutely silent outside after noon–dogs are in, walkers stay home, next-door-motorcycle-guy doesn’t ride, mowers sit in the shade, power cables melt, freeways buckle. The sun rules.

 

I’m sure that in other parts of the country, life goes on when it’s over 100, but here in Puget Sound, everything stops. Don’t you youngsters roll your eyes, but I swear, summers were never like this in the good old days. Every June when I was a kid, we used to come from the Midwest to visit our grandmother on Vashon. The kids slept out on the porch and at bedtime you could hear us howl about how cold it was out there. Needless to say, our complaints went unheeded; Muth and Normie piled on blankets, added winter underwear, dug out the wooly socks, let the dog cuddle in, and we survived—but I swear, you could see your breath in the morning.


Ginny told me about a cold chili-oil noodle recipe from the NYT cooking app that we both tried and loved. My version borrows from the China Moon cookbook but is simpler. If you don’t like spicy, just substitute the oil of your choice for the chili oil.

 

Cold tomato noodles

 

Cook 1/2 pound noodles (I used dried udon, but rice noodles, soba noodles or linguini would do just fine) until just done. Drain and rinse until cool. Remove excess water and add 2 tsp. chili oil (or use TJ’s Chili onion crisp but beware—it’s spicy), 1 Tbs. sesame oil, 1 Tbs. rice vinegar, white vinegar or, if you have it, Chinese black vinegar, 1 Tbs. fish sauce, I Tbs. soy sauce. Combine.

 

Peel and seed two large tomatoes, squeeze out the juice, and dice in a coarse chop. Let drain for a bit in a sieve. Season with salt and pepper.

 

Thinly slice 6 or so green onions, trimming off the tough end part. (I have a disturbingly aggressive clump of garlic chives so I used those), chop one bunch cilantro, and if you have basil in the garden a fistful would go nicely. 

 

The addition of cooked broccoli florets are good, bean sprouts or cooked cauliflower would be grand, diced blanched zucchini would work, leftover roasted vegetables would be sublime. Whoops, I was going to use frozen shelled, cooked edamame beans—maybe next time. Any leftover cooked protein—pork tenderloin, chicken, tofu—is a welcome addition. Maybe there’s even some fermented black beans stuck in the vegetable bin.

 

Sauce:

1 tablespoon ginger: minced fresh, jarred, or (my new favorite) frozen cubes from TJ’s.

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

I had some Chinese XO sauce and used a bit of that

1 tablespoon vinegar (see above)

A glug of bottled sweet chili sauce

Couple squirts agave or a few sprinkles of sugar

Check out your refrigerator door shelves for an interesting Asian sauce you may have forgotten about—hoisin, black bean, okonomiyaki, creamy sesame—and add a glug of that.

 

Add 1 cup of sauce, vegetables, and protein to cold noodles. Toss well with your fingers. Let sit for 10 minutes. Taste and add more sauce if you like; the noodles should be flavorful but not soupy. At this point, the noodles may be sealed and refrigerated for up to a day. Bring nearly to room temperature before serving, and check if the noodles have absorbed the sauce and add more if desired. 

 

Just before serving, add the bean sprouts, basil, and coriander, tossing lightly to mix.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

Good stuff: Strawberry pie

Vashon: Then and Now

I’ve put away my winter clothes twice now, forgetting that a Puget Sound summer doesn’t begin until after July 4. In the process, however, I piled up four bags of “will I ever wear this again” clothes. I could have dropped them off at the Lacey Goodwill, but a trip to Granny’s on Vashon sounded way more fun. Ginny and I fueled up first at the Burton Coffee Cart with a latte and a scone, then on to Granny’s to trade stuff.

Granny’s Attic was started by volunteers in 1975 in a vacated gas station next door to Sound Food. Locals scraped and scrubbed oil off the floors, placed long tables over the open grease pit to keep shoppers from falling in, hung pipes from the ceiling to serve as clothes racks, put cash boxes on TV trays, and on June 13 the the double garage doors were rolled open for business. Granny’s, created to provide financial support for the Vashon-Maury Health Center, has raised over $2,000,000 and in the process created a volunteer community of like-minded friends, a consistent source of low-cost clothing and household goods for locals, and the Thursday morning thrill of “What will I find that I didn’t know I needed?” I know someone who, when shopping for jeans, a raincoat, or walking shoes, doesn’t turn to Amazon but heads straight for Granny’s. Why pay $40 when you can find just what you want for $5?

Anyways, over the years Granny’s has furnished our house, hung paintings on our walls, and been my source for flower pots, kitchen tools, garden equipment, and in general—good stuff.

Here’s George Carlin’s take on stuff.

I am always on the search for the perfect strawberry pie—just like Muth used to make. Here’s this year’s version from the New York Times, it may be the one.

Strawberry pie

FOR THE CRUST:

11 ounces/300 grams shortbread cookies (two 5 1/3-ounce packages)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup/55 grams unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING:
2 1/2 pounds/about 1 kilogram strawberries (about 8 to 10 cups), hulled
⅓ cup/65 grams granulated sugar
3 tablespoons strawberry preserves
1/4 cup/30 grams cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


FOR THE TOPPING
1 cup/240 milliliters cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

  1. Prepare crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine shortbread cookies, sugar, flour and salt and blend until you have fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a medium mixing bowl. Add butter and mix with a fork until crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip crumbs into a standard 9-inch pie plate and press them in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake until golden brown and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  2. Prepare filling: Cut each of the strawberries in quarters or eighths, if they are large. Transfer 2 cups berries to a small saucepan and crush completely with a potato masher. Set aside the remaining berries in a large bowl. Add the sugar, preserves, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon water and salt to the saucepan.
  3. Bring strawberry mixture to a boil over medium heat and then cook it an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add strawberry mixture and lemon juice to the strawberries in the bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared crust and gently tap it down into an even layer. Transfer to the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.
  4. Just before serving, whip cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, if using, to soft peaks. Top pie with whipped cream.
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Sound Food | 1 Comment

Nature: the good, the bad, the ugly. Thai pork meatballs

Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh.  As one comment said, “Frank covered many genres, even Noise,”


So there we were, six old friends, conflicted with the animal-lover/gardener dilemma: after planting, watering, feeding, and coaxing fragile lettuce starts, pampering quirky peonies, and cajoling tricky Daphnies, how does a gardener stifle the urge to wring a rabbit’s neck when you see him devouring your hard work?

We were sitting outdoors after dinner at our annual Memorial Day potluck sharing stories. The Sweetie’s wildflower patch was just beginning to bloom: purple lupins, white lacey flowers, yellow poppies, towering pink foxgloves—surrounded by ragged, bare patches curated by munching bunnies. All of a sudden, the juncoes sounded their chirpy alarm and dive-bombed the flowers. Then, down the slope, shrieking and clawing, tumbled a furry, fighting ball of two small, grappling animals. Didn’t take long to see that it was a weasel with a young rabbit clenched in its jaws.

As I’m a terrible Nature photographer and forgot my camera anyway, these pictures were nicked straight from the internet.

Granted, there was general dismay over the violence and some sympathy for the bunny, but there was also an almost involuntary, overall cheer from the gardener side, “Go weasel, go!”  Mr. Google knew all about the weasel and called it a “vicious and bloodthirsty predator.” Anyways, this episode, straight out of PBS’s Nature, was brief but spectacular and over almost before we could choose sides. The fighting and wrestling ball rolled past the juncoes and through the wildflowers until it came to a stop at the base of the slope. The weasel tightened its grip, looked over its shoulder, and dragged the bunny up the slope and into the woods—probably not to attend the teddy bears’ picnic.

Before the weasel/bunny excitement, we polished off dishes from our Asian-cuisine get together: Thai asparagus & yam noodle salad, seared, stir-fried tofu with vegetables, and Korean rice bowls with pork meatballs. We’ve scaled down some: no more five-course feasts, complicated menus, or fussy food. We’ll choose the easy, the quick, and the accessible and will stick with old friends, good food, and lengthy conversations. 

Thai pork meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Nuoc Nam sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons short grain glutinous rice, such as sushi rice
  • 4 ounces pork fat, cubed
  • Vegetable oil
  • 6 to 8 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes. 

In a small bowl combine the ground pork, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and pepper. 

Place the rice in a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until rice is toasted, golden brown and fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. When cool, place rice in a coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Measure 3 tablespoons of the powder and set aside.

Add the 3 T. rice powder to ground pork mixture. Don’t over process or the mixture will become sticky. 

Lightly oil your hands. Divide meat mixture into heaping 1 1/2 tablespoonfuls and roll each into a smooth ball. Recoat your hands with oil as necessary. Thread the meatballs onto the bamboo skewers, fitting as many as you can on each skewer.

Grill or broil the skewered meatballs, turning occasionally, until cooked through.  

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la: Shrimp & asparagus pasta

Wildflowers, Tom Petty

If “April is the cruelest month,” as T. S. Eliot once wrote, then May is the kindest: temperature in the 70s, gentle rain, cool Puget Sound breezes, and glorious color everywhere. Screaming yellow Scotch broom runs rampant along the highways, foxgloves are set to explode, those pesky little purple weeds disguised as flowers still look innocent, species rhodies bloom along side roads, and front yards are vibrant with newly planted annuals.

As for our wildflower slope, the Sweetie has put in the hard work, labored with hoe and rake, lugged countless sacks of soil and compost, sowed and watered seeds, and we’re beginning to see early results: dark blue lupines, white alyssum, gold poppies, and pink who-knows-whats. I have contributed in my own own lazy way to our backyard beauty with a few reluctant snapdragons, a sun-shy begonia, and some brash Martha Washington geraniums. Now we can sit back and wait for the show.

Of course everyone is outside gardening: Ginny has a plot full of early tomatoes, lettuce starts, snap peas, chard, and gorgeous red peonies; the Fro’s beautiful garden is bursting with colorful perennials, there’s a glorious dark lavender rhodie to our right, the neighborhood front-yard azaleas are taking their final bow, and the lilacs look like they may last forever this year.

The wild creatures remind us daily that we share our outdoor spaces with them: the rabbits (I refuse to call them bunnies) and deer have their way with our tender young plants, Green Frog and Dark Green Frog claimed the Miracle Gro flower feeder jug in our patio storage box, and a mother junco emphatically staked out a dead shrub (just about to be sent to the refuse bin) as the perfect spot to raise her chicks, so the garden tidy is on pause.

Shrimp Pasta with Artichoke Pesto and Asparagus 
(makes 4-6 servings) 


  • One pound peeled 16-20 shrimp
  • 1 lb. bag of dry pasta
  • Artichoke Pesto: 
1 small jar marinated artichokes, with juice, 1/2 small can hearts of palm, without juice, 
1 Tbs. olive oil, 
1/2 Tbs. grated lemon zest, 
1 Tbs. minced garlic, 3 finely chopped green onions, 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1/2-1 cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino, Romano, or Kasseri cheese
  • 2 cups chopped greens: spinach, arugula, chard, kale, or combination
  • 1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Salt to taste


Pesto: Pulse artichokes with juice, hearts of palm without juice, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, green onion, and pepper flakes in food processor until smoothly chunky or chunkily smooth. Pulse in grated cheese. Taste for seasoning. Pour pesto into large bowl.

Bring lots of salted water to boil. Blanch greens for 30-60 seconds. Remove from water with tongs or a slotted spoon. Let cool. Chop coarsely. Add greens to pesto in large bowl. Home-made or store-bought basil pesto works like a charm too.

Add pasta to the same water and cook 10-12 minutes or until almost done. 

Add peeled shrimp and asparagus pieces to cooking pasta. Cook until shrimp turns pink and asparagus turns brighter green—cook only a few minutes, don’t overcook.

Drain pasta, shrimp, and asparagus into colander, save 1/2 cup pasta water. Pour pasta/shrimp/asparagus on top of pesto and greens in the large bowl. Add reserved pasta water. Add more cheese. Toss to combine.

Posted in Family and friends | 3 Comments

Albuquerque Mothers Day: Bell pepper salsa

These are for Jane: Pony Boy, Jack Arthur and I’m a Little Teapot, Major and Melody

Spellcheck and I argued over my use of Mothers instead of Mother’s, but in the end, I won because I was there. Most years I spend Mother’s Day without the benefit of children or a mother, but this year I was surrounded an adult daughter, grown grandchildren, and one small greatgrand—a true Mothers’ Day feast. Creating this occasion did include a flight to Albuquerque, but the reward far outweighed the effort.

My great granddaughter will soon add big sister to her resume and her parents took a Colorado getaway before a new baby boy joins the family. My daughter, Bridget, and Lauren flew in to join Katie, who also lives in Albuquerque, to assume care and feeding of Jane (the great-grand) and Georgia (the dog), and I came in to complete the four-generation extravaganza. We only had four days but we packed in laughter, conversation, cooking, eating, drinking coffee, watching Frozen, singing songs, reading books, driving back and forth to the airport, and general snuggling.

 

Albuquerqians (?) are emphatic about their unique cuisine—not to be lumped in with Tex Mex. New Mexican cuisine, known for its fusion of Pueblo/Hispanic/Mexican cultures, developed in a relatively isolated region allowing the food to retain its indigenous flavor. Chili, either green or red and made from local chilies, is a given on any menu item. When I ordered enchiladas at Frontier, the server asked, “What kind of chili do you want?” “I think I ordered enchiladas,” I said. “But do you want red or green chili in your enchilada?” “Green chili it is.”

We lunched at The Frontier, an iconic Albuquerque landmark located near the University of New Mexico—a busy, Western-themed restaurant open from 5 am to 1 am (It used to be open 24 hours a day, but cut back its hours due to “unruly patrons.”) famous for its sweet rolls, green chili cheeseburgers, posole, and carne adovado. The owners collected and display over one hundred Western-themed artworks including a bootload of John Wayne portraits.

The next day we brunched at an equally famous Los Poblanos, known in the food world as one of the country’s best weekend retreats and dining experiences. We ate outdoors, under turquoise blue skies and a soft desert breeze, basking in one of New Mexico’s 310 annual days of sunshine, choosing from a farm-sourced, New Mexican cuisine based menu, settling on chilaquiles, orange soufflé pancakes, and a piece of rhubarb crumb cake.

But, we mostly we ate at home: drive-by pizza, delicious chicken rice bowls, spontaneous stir-fry, leftovers, and a last-night, glorious pesto pasta with Greek salad. One late afternoon, Leah and Bridget whipped up some bell pepper snacks, Caleb hustled to the store for chips, and we all ate so much chips and salsa that we postponed dinnertime.

We crowded onto the couch, cozied under quilts, watched movies, sat outside after dinner talking for hours, piled onto the airbed mattress with every stuffed animal friend Jane could find, played in the park, learned how to Slack line, hosed each other in the Albuquerque afternoons, and generally watched the sweetest little girl ever. Thanks so much to my family for a memorable visit. And, thanks to dear Jon and Lara from the opposite coast for my blue ceramic water feature. If I could have chosen from hundreds, it would have been that one.

This recipe for bell pepper salsa is an approximation, not a written recipe from the cook’s mouth but I think you’ll like it. 

New Mexican bell pepper salsa 

1 green bell pepper, fine dice

1 red bell pepper, fine dice

1 can (7 ounce size) chopped green chiles
1 jalapeño pepper (or Hatch chili, if you’re brave) seeded and chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup drained black beans

1/2 cup cooked, drained sweet corn

1 small can sliced black olives
1 bunch chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt to taste


Combine the bell peppers, green chiles, hot chilies, chopped jalapeños, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, black beans, corn, olives and cilantro in a bowl. Drizzle with the oil and lime juice and sprinkle with the cumin. Toss well to combine. 


Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Taste before serving, you may want to add more lime juice and salt.

 

 

 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 2 Comments

The Pot Roast Principle, or Cooking like our Moms

Glenn Miller, In the Mood

There’s a popular story/urban myth about a little girl/husband watching her/his mom/wife make a pot roast/ham and asking, “Why do you cut the ends off before you bake it?”

“I don’t know, it’s the way my mom did it, probably made it juicier. Why don’t you ask Gramma.”

So the little girl asked Gramma, who said, “I don’t know, it’s just the way my mom did it, probably made it juicier. Why don’t you ask her?”

So the little girl called Great Gramma and asked her, “Why did you cut the ends off a pot roast before you cooked it. Did it make it juicier?”

“No,” said great grandma, “When I was first married, my only pan was too small to hold a whole roast, so I cut off both ends so that it would fit.”

Or there’s this one. Same little girl, standing on a kitchen stool, loves to help her mom cook dinner and later as an adult cook, follows her mom’s principal of turning a can upside down and opening it at the bottom—for safety or freshness, she assumes. Years later when they were cooking together on Thanksgiving, the daughter automatically turned a can of green beans upside down and opened it from the bottom.

“Why did you turn the can upside down before you opened it?,” Mom asked.

“Cause you always did it that way,” the daughter replied.

“Well,” said the mom, “we stored the cans in the storm cellar and the tops were always dusty, so I turned the cans upside down and opened the bottom.”

Here’s my version of the Pot Roast Principle. I change sheets and hang them outside to dry each Saturday, just like my mom did. She taught school during the week and Saturday was her day to clean and spiff. These years, I could choose any old day to change the sheets but every Saturday as I fluff a clean top sheet over the bed (“hemmed side next to your body”) and later, fold a fitted sheet (“two corners in each hand, then tuck together”) fresh from the clothesline, I think of her.

There are those who think the moral of these stories is: question the old ways, don’t be too quick to do things the way they have always been done. But I think that holding on to some of the details of our past and the routines of the ones we love, keeps their memory alive.

Here’s a recipe I watched Muth make many times, I made it by her side a time or two, and have made it by myself for years. She bought “country-style” spare ribs from the town butcher, brought them home, carefully cut each slab into two-rib pieces, put them into a Pyrex pan, covered them with the liquid ingredients, and baked them slowly for hours. I do it exactly the same, except for the chipotle peppers in sauce—not available in 1950s Nebraska. I do carefully cut each slab into two-rib pieces just like Muth did. I don’t know why she did that, maybe her pan was too small.

Anyways, happy Mother’s Day, here’s thinking of you Muth.

Oven-Baked County-Style Spareribs

  • 5 lbs. country-style ribs
  • 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 c. catsup
  • 3 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 T. chopped ginger
  • 3 T. chopped garlic
  • 1⁄2 c. soy sauce
  • 3 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. dry Coleman’s mustard
  • 3 T. brown sugar
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1 T. chipotle peppers in sauce

Season ribs with salt, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, refrigerate overnight. Mix rest of ingredients then pour over ribs. Bake in 400° oven for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 325°, bake for 2-3 hours. Check for doneness and bake longer if necessary. Liquid should be thickened but not gone. Ribs should be falling-off-the bone tender with plenty of sauce left. The ribs are best when left to their own devices for 20-30 minutes before eating.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Birria: Creamy Chicken Wet Burritos

Mavericks, All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down

In 1980s when I worked the line at Trumps in LA (no connection to the orange guy), my shift started at 5:00 pm and ended at 1:00 am. After six hours of cooking, smelling, and wearing truffle-infused duck breast, grilled lobster, and bourbon-laced mushroom pasta, the last thing I wanted to do was to eat any of it. Family meal was prepared by the cooks and served out of large metal bowls to ravenous servers but the kitchen staff seldom had time to pause and reflect, so aside from professional tastes along the way, cooks left work hungry.

Not far from restaurant row in West Hollywood, a few taco trucks parked in the alley behind Melrose—that’s where the cooks ate after work. All the trucks served $.99 tacos, some expanded their menus to include chili rellanos, bowls of chilaquiles, and deep-fried churros—and our favorite one served birria tacos. Birria tacos were made with griddle-fried corn tortillas stuffed with shredded beef and cheese, and served with a small paper cup of birria soup. So you dunked the taco into the paper cup, tilted your head into taco position, and smiled as the juice dripped down your arm. Before I lived in Los Angeles, the only Mexican food I knew came out of a box or was eaten off scorching hot plates filled with reddish rice, gluey beans, and cheesy enchiladas, so tongue tacos, poblano quesadillas, and birria were a revelation.

When I quit working the night shift, a good night’s sleep replaced my late-night LA Mexican food adventures. Then we moved back home to the Northwest where tacos trucks were a dream and birria tacos, a tasty memory. So imagine my delight, when driving along Martin Way (I’m certain now that the soul of Lacey lies across the street from the Bud Barn, between Oki’s Barbershop and Miss Moffett’s Magical Bakery), I saw a banner announcing the existence of BIRRIA. Last week when Ginny came for a lunch adventure, we headed straight for the soul of Lacey to have birria at El Itacate.

Ginny ordered a bowl of birria soup and I had birria tacos—both were beyond delicious. Ginny let me dunk my taco in her bowl of juice and still took soup home, added noodles, and Bob’s your uncle—there was dinner. So if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by 9018 Martin Way East and try a birria taco, some Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo, Quesadilla Tinga, or Pozole—just give me a jingle and I’ll meet you there.

https://www.clover.com/online-ordering/el-itacate-restaurant–lacey

Today’s recipe isn’t about birria, but is a fairly easy way to enjoy an American-Mexican wet burrito.

Creamy chicken wet burritos

  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut up and softened
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups whipping cream

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion, and sauté 5 minutes. Add green chiles; sauté 1 minute. Stir in cream cheese and chicken; cook, stirring constantly, until cream cheese melts.

Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons chicken mixture down center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas, and place, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with Monterey Jack cheese, and drizzle with whipping cream.

Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes.

Thanks, Nancy, for introducing me to the Mavericks.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 3 Comments